James Kunduno – Break your silence about FGM

James Kunduno
By Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. As you already
know from our previous posts, ProMosaik is active in the struggle against FGM
all over the world. We have also publish a
book about how to struggle FGM
, and how Muslim communities should raise
their voice against the phenomenon which is also spread among Christians and
other religious communities. FGM is a crime against girls and women and has no
justification. No religion, and no tradition can justify it. We have to
struggle against it with education and laws. Would like to thank James Kunduno,
the National Coordinator of Amazonian Initiative Movement in Sierra Leone and
Guinea for having answered to our questions about Female Genital Mutilation.

If you want to help, please follow this link

How is the situation of FGM in the countries
you work for?

Female genital
mutilation (FGM) is widespread in the neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea West
African countries, with about 90 per cent of women in both countries undergoing
circumcision. During the Ebola virus outbreak, FGM was one source of
transmitting the virus reason why in Sierra Leone was put on a ban but just
after the cease of the virus, the communities immediately to the practice
compensating the period it strictly on ban though officially it is still on ban.
Just last year 2016, girls died during the process and it led to Guinea’s
government to urge its communities that practice FGM to “stop sacrificing
the girls”, and said it was committed to the fight against the “vile
practice”. Sierra Leone, along with West African neighbors Liberia and
Mali, are among a handful of FGM-affected countries in the continent which have
not yet banned the practice whiles Guinea has passed a ban but not enforced
within the scope of its implementation.

Sierra Leone recently
seeks to ban FGM and even set up a committee through the ministry of Social
welfare children and women’s affairs who came up with a national strategy to
reducing the practice of FGM which is yet politically down plaid fear of the
2018 national elections. 2 national anti-FGM civil society organizations have
been formed bringing together NGOs and INGOs to end FGM but still struggling.
Religious leaders including the inter-religious council and individual churches
and mosques have resolved to ban FGM. AIM is one of a leading local institution
struggling to end FGM in the 2 countries of Guinea and Sierra Leone. The
practice is still prevalent despites all the above strives. The land is already
prepared as AIM with other organizations have broken the silence in the land
since it was prohibited before this time to have a public discussions on FGM
and especially non initiate girls, women, men and children were highly
forbidden but today, all categories of ages and sexes do discuss it without a
warrant arrest from members. This is a big strive AIM did with the support of
Plan International Sierra Leone, and Terres des femmes who have so much helped
to rescue girls and women who refused to be part of FGM by giving more girls
the opportunity to say No to FGM with assurance of helping out with a safe home
and a privilege of not missing their schooling. “The FGM crackdown needs
to reach out to people on the ground and women in villages across the country,
and a government-led outreach program may be required” “Sierra Leone
must take a blanket approach to include politicians, health workers and
communities, and even consider how to involve the cutters in the discussions to
eliminate the practice,” It is true that FGM is particularly difficult to
eliminate in Sierra Leone because of the influence of secret  men and 
women’s societies which back the practice and wield significant
political clout, but the strife is worth fighting as a good fight of faith and
the victory to end FGM is sure as millions of girls and women are losing their
lives because of a barbaric culture that has no respect for human rights an
human dignity among women and children. We have come from afar and we cannot
lose this battle. We need help out there to hit at both ends- bottom
(grass-root community engagement) and top (government). The practice of FGM
undermines the entire scope of women and children wellbeing and the sustainable
development goal.

are the main justifications of FGM?

history, culture /tradition have been invoked to justify abhorrent and inhuman
practices. Tradition covers the most enduring enemies of a woman’s dignity and
security and aims at preserving male dominance and female subjugation. Despite
all the negative consequences of FGM, at least 2 million infants, girl-children
and  women undergo the operation every
year (that is about 6,000 per day or one in every 15 seconds).
question what are the main justification of FGM/C is very crucial. Why it is
strongly defended in areas where it is practiced and even expanding into new
territories? What motivates parents to force infants as young as 7 or 8 days
old, under-ones, girl-children mostly under 10 undergo the FGM operation?
answer, many studies have been carried on during our research to determine the
reasons why the practice of FGM is persistent. I will cite 3 country cases to
show the main justifications forwarded by FGM practitioners and supporters. Senegal,
Sierra Leone Egypt. Purification (Islam)
31.7%, Tradition 85.6%, Normal practice 56%, Traditional reasons 25.7%, Religion
17%, Cleanliness 32% , Virginity 32.1% Chastity 3.7%, Religion, 14%, Hygiene 3.3,
Men’s wishes 14% .
most frequently cited reasons are traditions and religion/belief, advantages
for women in terms of health, beauty, virginity, etc. The supporters,
promoters, guardians and practitioners of FGM broaden their defense by claiming
that FGM enhances fertility; controls and prevents waywardness of girls; makes
women faithful Wives; mystifies that excessive growth of clitoris
(hypertrophy); clitoris is dangerous and hinders intercourse, creates impotency
and kills baby at delivery; the normal genitalia of women are claimed to be
ugly and disgusting and must be removed.
uncircumcised women and girls cannot be accepted as a serious and responsible
adult unless she is operated. A full grown up adult woman is looked upon  as an irresponsible girl not fit to talk where
circumcised girls are considered real responsible women because they are cut or
mutilated. Their list is much longer.
justifications, even if each one can be refuted and demystified, in societies
where illiteracy and poverty prevail, where women believe that FGM is
universal, where the social pressure is tight, and the justifications for FGM
are the reality of life for the women in FGM practicing countries. These
justifications are also strengthened by cultural relativists who “assert that
the practices within any specific culture are unique to the values, systems and
practices within that culture. For them, there are no universal standards and
the morality and values of one national culture ( eg.  Africa) cannot be compared to that of another
(western world).” They deny the fact that tradition is dynamic. They refuse to
accept the reality that old harmful traditions have been done away in many
parts of the world.
cited earlier in regards to case studies of the three African countries, religion
( eg Islam and Christianity ) and tradition appear to be the main
will not concentrate on the religious aspect of the justifications. I just want
to remark that FGM predates both Islam and Christianity and is cross-religions
and practiced by the followers of Islam, Christianity, animists and other
traditional religions. FGM is not Practiced by all Muslims and has been wrongly
associated with Islam. The main teachings of Islam and Christianity, as
expressed in the Holy Koran and Holy Bible respectively, do not prescribe or
enforce the practice of FGM. It is unfortunate that religious leaders who have
not taken a firm stand to denounce its practice, even though they believe that
it is not sanctioned by their founders. Tradition is the cover for most of the justifications,
even learned individuals including medical students and doctors, lawyers, etc  endorse  the practice of FGM. Traditions cover all
norms of our life and are not static and adapt to changes as the result of
interaction with external influence. I will try to point out the main
justifications of FGM which have not been able to be influenced or changed with
first justification of FGM is the sociological aspect which presents the
operation as a transition in life stages. FGM is taken to be an initiation
rite, coming of age rite or passage rite.
was performed at puberty on girls 12 to 14 years old and above, or some just
before the onset of ministration and just before marriage.
as an initiation rite emphasizes the transition in age status from girlhood to women
hood and to marriageable age. As an uncircumcised girl has no chance of having
a suitor, the operation is a signal for her readiness for marriage and
availability. Before the initiation through mutilation, the girls are kept in
seclusion for a period of time, before this time it was  three months and the young ladies were  given instructions on morality, tribal law,
social codes, being a good wife, behaviours around elders and other age groups,
cooking, personal hygiene, caring for member family and upbringing of  children etc. 
initiation rites create a sort of club to which uncircumcised ones are not
accepted. In some communities, like in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, it is
a secret society that one joins only by going through the initiation rite.
studies indicate that the initiation part of FGM is declining drastically
reduced to (at least 2 weeks) instead of more time frame without any of the
above trainings and the girls are released just after healing or partial healing.
More so the age of operation is also declining this is due for fear that with
much awareness being done; older girls will definitely refuse to be initiated
with time.  In many parts of Africa, the
operation takes place on infants of 7 or 8 days old and girl-children most
under 5 years of age. The victims are too young even to understand the word
marriage itself.
operation is (still) regarded as the very essence of an institution which has
enormous educational, social, moral, and health, physical, spiritual, economic and
religious implications, quite apart from the operation itself. For the present
it is impossible for a member of a tribe to imagine an initiation without
clitordectomy (FGM).  
most of African states, some justifications concentrate on morality, virginity,
honor and marriage, and sexual control, FGM is expected to fulfill and maintain
these virtues. For most African women as well as other Third World women, marriage
is not an option but a must for survival.
and reproduction are the only guarantee for women to gain economic security and
social status. Infertility is one of the worst fates that a woman can face in
her life in these communities. Marriage ensures a woman with old age pension or
security as well as respect in the society. A woman without children or an
unmarried woman will have a very difficult life and a devastated old age,
especially ones without any support from their relatives or community. The
whole practice of FGM is the base for marriage. Without undergoing FGM, a woman
is denied the right of marriage, in most cases also the denial of receiving
bride price. An unmarried woman is an outcast in the society.
Africa, marriage does not come easily without its sacrifices.
must be maintained at the time of marriage and the lack of it has damaging
social consequences to the individual as well as to the parents. Virginity is
the base for marriage ability and it also enforces the prohibitions of sexual
relationships outside marriage. Virginity is also considered as a base for a
family’s honor and why the practice of FGM but it does not hold today in our
society. . A girl is expected to bring honor to her family through the
preservation of her virginity. This is where FGM comes as a means of ensuring
virginity. It is also believed that virginity of a woman ensures the fatherhood
of the husband.
misconception is that women are presumed to be weak in areas of emotion and,
therefore, must be controlled. In other words, women are unable to control
their sexuality. That is why it is believed that uncircumcised girls are assumed
to run wild, or are considered of loose moral, bringing shame to their parents.
FGM is expected to play that role by reducing the girl’s sexual desire and
prevent sexual experience before marriage. The reduced desire even during the
marriage is expected to ensure faithfulness of the woman to her husband. It is
believed that FGM controls women’s sexuality effectively. FGM may reduce the
feelings but it cannot reduce the desire and, in addition, it does not
guarantee chastity. It does not guarantee the morality of women, as shown by
the fact that FGM practicing countries have relatively high numbers of
prostitutes. In addition, FGM has nothing to do with moral behavior which comes
basically from proper moral education and the individual’s intended behavior.

identity is also given as a reason for the practice of FGM. It is practiced to
clearly distinguish the sex of an individual based on the belief that the
foreskin of a boy makes him female and the clitoris of the female makes her a
male. So in FGM practicing countries the removal of the clitoris, which is believed
to be male parts, makes a woman feminine.
addition, clitoris is considered to be ugly on a girl and must be removed to
eliminate any indications of maleness. Some go even to the extreme by priding themselves
on the degree of mutilation. According to one Sudanese woman, “In some
countries they only cut out the clitoris, but here we do it properly. We scrape
our girls clean. If it is properly done, nothing is left, other than a scar.
Everything has to be cut away.” The clitoris and labia considered to be the
masculine parts are seen as dangerous and poisonous organs and must be removed
for health reasons. It is believed that they will kill a baby during birth and
will also cause trouble to the man during intercourse. Similar attitudes and
misconceptions include that leaving a girl uncircumcised endangers both her
husband and her baby; if the baby’s head touches the uncut clitoris during
birth, the baby will be born hydrocephalic (excess cranial fluid). The milk of
the mother will become poisonous. If a man’s penis touches a woman’s clitoris,
he will become impotent. The misconceptions are listless, but one can easily
see that all these justifications are scientifically refutable. Ignorance and
the cover of tradition ensure its survival.
is further believed that the removal of the clitoris and labia contribute to
the cleanliness and beauty of women because an unmutilated woman is considered dirty
and polluted. This is one reason why uncircumcised women are ostracized within
their own families and communities. The absence or removal of the clitoris keeps
the vagina clean and makes vaginal intercourse more desirable than clitoral
stimulation. These misconceptions are based on the fact that secretions
produced by the glands in the clitoris, labia minora and majora are
smelling and unhygienic and so makes the female body unclean.
normal conditions secretions are odorless and if the secretions are bad
smelling, excessive and colored, then this is an indication of infection or
other serious problems, probably requiring medication. In reality FGM can
create uncleanliness by closing the vulva and preventing the natural flow of
urine and menustral flow and consequently leading to the retention of urine and
menustral blood causing offensive smell.
practitioners of FGM also stress that FGM enhances fertility and prevents
maternal and infant mortality. They claim that the secretions produced by the
glands of the genitalia (external female organ) kills the sperm deposited in
the vagina by the male. In reality the genitalia’s role
to create excitement, facilitate smooth child delivery and enjoyable sexual
intercourse and has nothing to do with egg cells produced in the ovaries. On
the other hand, FGM can lead to infertility, for example, chronic pelvic inflammatory
diseases caused by infection can block the fallopian tube leading to
infertility. Infant and maternal mortality tend to be higher in areas where FGM
is practiced in Africa.
pressures are imposed on individuals through family and community members.
Those who do not take part are ostracized and excluded from community life and activates.
payment of bride price contributes to maintain and promote FGM as well as child
marriage. Potential husbands will pay the bride price only for a circumcised
and virgin girl, thereby, making  the
operation a necessity and the only option for marriage. Bride price holds the
key to marriage by enforcing circumcision and virginity, as well as promoting polygamy
in many communities..
the issue of FGM is no longer a taboo. The issue of rights of women to life,
health, education, employment without bias is globally recognized.  The elimination of FGM requires changes of
values, attitudes and norms through education, information, communication and
empowerment of women. This change requires the involvement of women themselves,
men, religious leaders, community leaders, and the youth. We also have to
accept the reality that change will not come without the full and committed
participation of men, be they politicians, religious and community leaders or
future husbands.

Female genital
cutting/mutilation is considered as a source of income generating activity
where practitioners and local authorities can earn up to USD 50 per girl.

is FGM something we cannot justify by anything?

the things they justify FGM with are but myths- the people believed what
society told them about FGM without knowledge of the entire scope of the truth-
As we saw  in the main justifications of
FGM, all those myths they eelier believed as benefits for practicing FGM/C all
turned to lies but they still continue to deny the fact not to appear as weak
people other people can easily persuade to follow strange philosophies and
ideologies and so they resolute their mind never to change their cause for
another man’s cause.

are your strategies to struggle against FGM?
use the holistic or holistic approach where in we include education, awareness
raising in non school and school communities targeting the local authorities,
parents- mothers, fathers, grand-parents, children-boys and girls, religious
leaders and local communality stakeholders who have influence in the
communities, health practitioners, teachers, and the practitioners themselves,
the politicians- members of parliament, the judiciary, ministries and
government agencies. We also look at empowering the perpetrators with
alternative livelihood like adult literacy, income generating activities,
agriculture,  soap making, animal
keeping, . These alternative ways of earning money  for their personal economic development help
them to earn clean money without shading of blood, we organize
workshop/trainings for the participants, use of the media- radio, and we host
those whose who because of their decision not to be initiated into FGM nd now
become outcast in their family and or in their communities, we bring them in a
safe home where support is provided for them ti we are able to mediate or till
we are sure that the child is no longer living under threats or far. We
organize intergenerational dialogue, focus group discussions, experience
sharing meetings; do presentations through drama in communities and in schools
and forming human right clubs who own the project in every community who
continues without us.

do you involve men in the struggle against FGM?
involve men in every aspect of the campaign as we observe, FGM is practiced
mostly for men- to be married, to remain faithful in their marriages, not to
harm the  penis and become impotent, not
to compete with men by removing the clitoris that resembles the men’s penis, to
respect husband and give birth to children for the men. We see that involving
men in the campaign is important so that the men will affirm to them that you
do not have to go through this barbaric culture to be accepted in marriage but
that they are more beautiful and unique when they are not mutilated etc.

did you achieve until now, and which are the obstacles you would like to
overcome in the future?
is to break the silence on women and girls rights  from where the platform is today free to
discuss on FGM public which was a taboo and people were threatened never to
talk on FGM and that it is sacred for outsiders and even insiders to discuss on
FGM except in the secret society shrine.
have been able to enter the shrine and rescue girls and women as long as they
call on us to rescue them. We have formed national coalition of likeminded
civil society group to pile pressure on the government and the members of
parliaments and ministries to come up with a national strategy to end FGM in
sierra Leone and the document being prepared and at the desks of government
have added our voice on END FGM IN THE USA IN DECEMBER,
safe home is built for girls who fell victims of FGM and were cast out of their
family and communities and are returned to school and helping them to achieve
their potential in life.
have been servant as FGM consultants in the sub region and for over seas
university students who wanted to know more on FGM and community development
difficulties among others but not limited are as follow:
lack permanent and quality  funding
donors to continue engaging the bottom and top levels as FGM   is as old as 
religion and therefore  it
eradication needs constant and permanent funding and not just a one to three
years program but rather more than that. It 
campaign involves the risk of lives- the campaigners are exposed and
vulnerable to physical and spiritual attacks by perpetrators and could lead to
death  especially when the champagne is
on a very short term note.
funding periods are limited within one to 3 years and the implementation
targets selected beneficiaries and others are left out, the entirety of the categories
involved in the implementation of FGM have to be targeted and followed up on a
quality given time frame because it has to do with the transformation of the
perception and attitude and character of the people involved.
holistic approached with the people owning the project for quality
transformation is crucial because the have to be constantly engaged and given
enough information to make quality informed decision to perceive the practice
not fit for human practice including alternating their perception and
empowering them alternatively to see the way of getting money FGM as  blood money . every scope of the state and
the grass root communities are to be targeted not leaving any stones unturned
to eradicate FGM.